1204 Natural gas line

Piping used for natural gas line installation.

State Board of Public Works members gave final approval Monday to public utility property tax assessments totaling $12.55 billion for the 2019 tax year, a nearly 12 percent jump spurred primarily by natural gas pipeline construction.

That should mean an extra $30 million in property tax collections for public school systems, counties and municipalities next year, officials said.

Natural gas pipeline construction statewide accounted for most of the increase, as the assessed value of pipelines in the state jumped from $2.4 billion last year to $3.397 billion, according to Tax Division reports.

Jeff Amburgey, state Property Tax Division director, told the board Monday that the final assessment was revised downward by $16.35 million, as valuations of several railcar leasing and telecommunications companies were decreased.

Although no companies formally objected to preliminary assessments released in September, Amburgey said it is not unusual for companies to revise previously submitted data, or to submit late filings, which accounted for Monday’s adjustment, reducing the overall assessment by about 1.3 percent.

The primary changes were from a $13.5 million reduction in valuations for Lumos Networks, a Virginia-based telecommunications provider that, following a merger, now operates as Segra.

Amburgey said the company was late filing its reports to the Tax Division, and said in those cases, the division tends to inflate valuations in order to give companies incentive to turn in their reports.

A number of railcar leasing companies had their assessments reduced, as weakening national and state economies have caused a downturn in rail traffic in the past year, with the largest reductions being $1.12 million for GATX Corp., and $1.04 million for SMBC Rail Services.

Russ Rollyson, senior deputy state auditor, said it will be late spring 2020 before the auditor’s office will have a county-by-county breakdown of how the $30 million of increased property tax collections will be distributed, but noted, “A large majority of that will be distributed to counties with the increased pipeline construction.”

About 64 percent of property taxes go to county Boards of Education, about 28 percent to county governments, 5 percent to municipalities, with the remainder going to the state, he said.

Under the law, one of the board’s prime duties is the annual approval of Tax Department assessments of property owned by public utilities, which are broadly defined to include railroads, airlines and bus companies, telephone and cellphone providers, along with traditional utilities, including electric, natural gas, and water and sewer companies.

The board consists of the governor, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and state superintendent of schools or their designees.

Also Monday, the board approved a transfer of property from the city of Wheeling to the Department of Arts, Culture and History.

Department curator Randall Reid-Smith said the property is a vacant lot adjacent to Independence Hall in downtown Wheeling, and said that the city is giving it to the department with the understanding the department will maintain the grounds.

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